On their 2021 album Bittersweet Demons, the Murlocs tempered their no-holds-barred rock & roll attack with a large serving of introspection, restraint, and melody. Seems like that was more something they had to get out of their system than it was the dawning of a new era, because Rapscallion mostly restores the amp-shredding, harmonica-blasting, garage door-rattling approach of earlier records. Only this time with some added heft in the rhythm section and a spine-bending crunch to the guitars. If Bittersweet Demons was written on piano (which it was), initially this record sounds like it was written on sledgehammers, cannons, and wildly careening muscle cars. The first half of the album whips by like a hurricane -- the guitars piercing the speaker cabinets, drums crashing mightily, and vocalist Ambrose Kenny-Smith yowling his way deep into the red. It's an inspiring, perspiring beginning that leaves no room for breath, just one body blow after another. There's barely any subtlety here; it's music for people with no time to waste on trivial things like dynamics or arrangements. Better by far to just crank it all up and bash it out. By the time the slow-strutting, sneering "Farewell to Clemency" comes rolling along, it's a welcome respite. It also heralds a second half that, while still containing hard rock gems like "Wickr Man" and the rollicking psychedelic rocker "Bowlegged Beautiful," actually does show off the band's gentler, craftier side. "Compos Mentis" brings the pianos back into view along with some guitar jangle and an affecting vocal from Kenny-Smith, "The Ballad of Peggy Mae" dials the energy down to a bluesy lope, and they even dip into the post-punk playbook for some sharp angularity on the tightly wound "Virgin Criminal." The latter song is the one that strays farthest from the wild and wooly sound both this band and related group King Gizzard share and seem able to do in their sleep. The sleekness calls to mind the Strokes, as does the guitar interplay. It's definitely an avenue the band might want to explore more if they get tired of unhinged rock & roll. Not that they needed to change; they could keep putting out records like this -- filled with energy and a tiny bit of polish -- and it would be a long time until the Murlocs got stale.
by Tim Sendra